Government 'planning social lockdown' in coronavirus hotspots

28 September 2020, 10:05 | Updated: 28 September 2020, 15:06

New emergency 'total social lockdowns' could be introduce in parts of the North and London
New emergency 'total social lockdowns' could be introduce in parts of the North and London. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

The government is looking at plans to impose an emergency 'total social lockdown' in coronavirus hotspots in England.

A two-week closure of pubs, bars and restaurants is being considered in large parts of the North and possibly even London, where new Covid-19 cases are beginning to rise rapidly, reports suggest.

A minister refused to rule out the possibility of the new measures in the North East and North West of England and possibly the capital as well.

The measures being looked at would also include a total ban on households mixing in any indoor location.

Asked whether the tough measures were being considered, Care Minister Helen Whately told LBC: "Every restriction has been brought in with a really heavy heart because we know the impact restrictions have on people's lives, but also people's livelihoods - particularly those working in the hospitality sector.

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"We don't want to [introduce tougher measures], but what I will say is we will keep the [infection] rates under review - and what we've in recent weeks is a very serious increase in the number of Covid cases - but also an increase in hospitalisation.

"We know that will translate into people very sadly dying. and putting more vulnerable people at greater risk of getting Covid in our communities.

"This is a reason to download the app - it's not just about yourself but it's about protecting the whole community."

It follows calls from Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, however, to urgently review the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants.

He said he feels it is "doing more harm than good" after being made aware of large groups buying alcohol from supermarkets and off-licenses, which do not have to close at 10pm under the new rules.

"I received reports that the supermarkets were absolutely packed out to the rafters with people gathering," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

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"I think there needs to be an urgent review of the emerging evidence from police forces across the country.

"My gut feeling is that this curfew is doing more harm than good. It creates an incentive for people to gather in the street or more probably to gather in the home.

"That is the opposite of what local restrictions here are trying to do."

Over the weekend videos emerged on social media of major crowds of people drinking in the street in Liverpool and elsewhere.

John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation, said police had difficulty dispersing large crowds that gathered with only limited numbers of officers available.

"You might only have one or two people in a busy high street at 10pm when hundreds and hundreds of people are coming out on to the streets," he told the Today programme.

"My colleagues will do the best they can to encourage and coerce people to move on but it is really difficult.

"All that you need is a hostile group that turns against those officers and the resources for that city centre are swallowed up dealing with that one incident."

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On whether the Government is reviewing the 10pm curfew, Ms Whately said ministers were keeping an "open mind" about changes to the regulations.

“It is clearly early days. We have just changed this rule last week,” she said.

“We keep an open mind on what is the best way to go about it. The steps that we have taken, particularly with the 10pm curfew, is something that we have done in some places during the course of the summer where we saw localised outbreaks and hospitality being part of the picture.

“We are constantly learning and seeing what has the most impact but we clearly need to take a step because of what we have seen with the rates going up across the country.”

It follows a significant rise in the number of new Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions, which has been followed by an increasing number of recorded deaths each day.

Over 44,000 new cases were reported in the seven days to Sunday, but the true number is expected to be much higher as an estimated 9,600 new infections are occurring every day.